The great city of Barcelona is bookended by two great hills, Tibidabo to the north and broad, low Montjuïc to the southwest, and the latter offers not only great views out over the city but a slew of cultural options that make it and its surrounding neighbourhood, though slightly off the usual tourist track, well worth any visitor’s time (and easily reachable via the Metro, the very efficient Underground).
Much of this is due to the legacy of the World’s Fair held here way back in 1929. The most noticeable example is the imposing Italianate Palau Nacional (in the background of the picture at top), which houses the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, with a varied collection especially strong in the areas of the Romanesque and Modernisme (Catalan Art Nouveau). Another notable star revived from that momentous event is the former German National Pavillion (right), designed by the great Bauhaus pioneer Mies van der Rohe and reconstructed in 1986. Yet a third is the the Poble Espanyol, essentially a theme park whose theme is Spain, with more than a hundred structures recreating some of the country’s most emblematic buildings and sites. It has been maintained and refreshed with all manner of shops, restaurants, and even nightspots, turning it into a pretty cool place to visit both by day and night.
An impressive neighbour also well worth a visit is the CaixaForum museum (Avinguda Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia 6-8), right at the foot of Mount Montjuïc. A unique example of Modernist architecture from 1911, designed by the reknowned Josep Puig i Cadafalch, this onetime textile factory is home to excellent temporary exhibitions such as the current “The Captive Beauty: Small Treasures from the Prado Museum” (through January 5, 2015).
Up on the hill apiece you’ll also find several other great institutions, including the Fundació Joan Miró, a modern-art museum centred around the work of the great eponymous Catalan 20th-century master; the Barcelona Botanical Garden; the Ethnological Museum, which covers various world cultures but is particularly strong in the local culture, that of Catalonia itself (therefore especially recommended); the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia; and the Olympic and Sports Museum (a number of stadiums and venues for the 92 Olympics that first brought Barcelona out onto the world stage in a major way are located up here, as well).
And of course the creative surprises in this neck of the urban jungle extend beyond the purely cultural. The Arenas de Barcelona on Plaça d’Espanya (Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes 373-385) is more than just a shopping mall. If you’re wondering about its circular shape and Moorish arches, well, olé! They’re owed to its past life as the city’s bullring (the last fight occurred in 1977 – bullfighting has been out of favour in Catalonia for many years). You can give your credit card a healthy workout, then enjoy a drink or a nibble on one of the upper-floor terraces with splendid views over Montjuïc hill. One, Cinco Jotas, offers an excellent daytime set menu for 12.50€, and another, seafood star Abrassame, is not far behind at 14.95€.
Other creative local eateries abound, as well, such as Basílico (Avinguda Paral-lel 142), a great little contemporary space with Mediterranean fusion kitchen, and La Vida Tapa, Tickets Bar, (Avinguda Paral-lel 164), run by the reknowned Ferrán Adrià and his brother Albert – where everyone who never got to go to their legendary El Bullí will want to try.
Then before signing off, I should of course make mention of the “magic fountain”. This is a classic sound-and-light extravaganza that all visitors to the area should aim to see on weekend evenings, marvelously choreographed sequences of synchronised splashing to classical music. A performance as befits the classiness of the neighbourhood itself.
More information in English: BCNTourism